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Notorious crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger dies in W. Va. prison

Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger has died, one day after being transferred to a West Virginia federal prison. A notorious lifelong criminal who ran gambling and drug rackets for decades, he fled Boston in 1994 but was eventually caught. In 2013, Bulger was convicted of involvement in 11 murders in the 1970s and 1980s. WGBH’s Emily Rooney joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his violent legacy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The notorious Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger is dead one day after being transferred to a federal prison in West Virginia.

    His death is being investigated as a homicide. Several news organizations, including The Boston Globe, reported he was murdered in prison today by inmates associated with the mob.

    Bulger, who for years was one of America's most wanted criminals, ran gambling and drug rackets across Boston for decades. He was an FBI informant as well.

    Bulger was on the run for 16 years, before he was eventually caught and convicted in 2013 of participating in 11 murders in the 1970s and '80s.

    Emily Rooney of public station WGBH in Boston has long covered Bulger and his crimes. And she joins me now.

    Emily Rooney, thank you for talking with us.

    What is known about how he died?

  • Emily Rooney:

    Well, he was only in the new prison — he had come up from Florida to West Virginia — less than 24 hours. He was still in his wheelchair.

    I heard had some reports that he was surrounded by a mob, a gang, of people who viciously beat him. I can't corroborate that, but that is what I have heard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which says something about that federal prison.

    He had a life…

  • Emily Rooney:

    It may say more than that too. It may say that they had transferred him there for a different reason, and there was somebody there waiting for him. We really don't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, a lot of questions.

    He started on this criminal path from a very early age. Tell us about his career.

  • Emily Rooney:

    He was a criminal at age 13. He was robbing convenience stores. He dropped out of school at the age of 14.

    He ran a criminal enterprise for decades and decades. He had this charm and this sort of appeal, that he lured people into his net, including women. He often had two or three women going at a time. He took that one on the road with him, but he tried to take the other one with him first, and she gave up and came home.

    And then he took Catherine Greig on the road with him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was — he was an FBI informant over what period of his life, and how did that develop?

  • Emily Rooney:

    Well, in 1975, he became an informant.

    What had happened was, the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to bring down La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia. In order to do so, they enlisted the help of the Winter Hill Gang, which was won by Whitey Bulger and all of his associates.

    They figured they will turn a blind eye to rackets and numbers and some — busting machines and that kind of stuff. But they also turned a blind eye to 19 murders.

    And then, in 1995, FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up in the same housing project as Whitey Bulger and was in the FBI, tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.

    But John Connolly has always continue to this day, hey, he was one of the guys, he was part of the team. And he feels like he took the fall for something that happened at a much higher level at the FBI.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned murders. I mean, he killed people with his own hands.

  • Emily Rooney:

    Oh, yes. And then he took naps afterwards.

    He killed at least two women, Deborah Hussey and Debra Davis. He was only convicted of one of those murders. But then he would pull their teeth out and bury the remains, so that they couldn't be as easily identified. We didn't have DNA testing back then.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the story of his life, I mean, it's been made into movies, documentaries.

  • Emily Rooney:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, about him.

    He will be remembered for all of this. And the woman who was with him at the end, she's still serving time.

  • Emily Rooney:

    So, Catherine Greig is still serving time.

    She was sentenced to a fairly minimum number of years, like seven or eight, but she refused to cooperate with some detail about, I don't know, other informants or where money was hidden, something like that. I can't remember the details of that. And she accepted more time in prison as a result. So she's still, I believe, in a — she's in a federal prison, somewhere locally, I believe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what a legacy he has.

  • Emily Rooney:

    I should say, by the way, that none of the victims in the greater Boston area are lamenting this at all. They're cheering. They're popping champagne tonight.

    But this is not the way his life should have ended. And the federal government has got some explaining to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Emily Rooney with WGBH, we thank you.

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